Freedom, system thinking, politics, science, education, economics, pirates

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Book review: "I want you to cheat!" by John Seddon

John is a occupational psychologist who runs a consultancy called Vanguard, who implement a method of process improvement that draws on the philisophies of W. Edwards Deming, Taiichi Ohno  and Shigeo Shingo. 

In this book he explains the effects that target setting, work standardisation, back office systems etc. have on the quality and cost of work thats is done in service organisations. 
I found this really chimes with my ideas of what is wrong in organisations, where the jobs are de-skilled and check box processes are supposed to replace knowledge. Unlike me, John has ideas of a better way and he has been developing and testing it in the real world. 
The key points are: find out what the customer wants by asking them. Measure how good your organisation is at doing the things customers want. Design the workflow ("the way the work works", according to John) to accept the variation in demands made on it by customers. Put the skilled poeple who can fix customers' concerns at the front end of the service and have them work directly with customers. Service work contains lots more variation than manufacturing work does, which is why straight application of the toyota Production System does not work. Much of the demand in service providers is failure demand - rework.

I read this book a couple of years ago and I have read John's other books since; but this is the best place to start, as it gives a good overview. Since I read it the Baby P tragedy happened and this book is now more important than ever. Not only can John's method save millions of pounds in costs, increase user satisfaction, get you served quicker and more accurately, it could save lives.

Buy it, read it, send one to your MP.


  1. Ordered, I hope it's as good as you say. As for sending a copy to Caroline Flint, she can get one on expenses.

  2. Careful Mark he may be signed up as a government consultant to replace McPoison!

  3. Most people forget that the easy bit of mapping the process is the "when things go right" bit.

    Most organisations totally F**K up the "when things go wrong" process controls.

  4. AC1: I agree about when things go wrong , it is also in handling the variety of customers' needs that can't be easily categorised or predicited. Systems devised by managers and forced on workers do not have flexibility to operate efficiently in the real world.
    It is the inflexibility of checkbox systems that stops them from doing the right thing for the customer, along with the demotivation and de-skilling that it brings.